Essay 39. Painting the Ice Cream Soup
art. postmodernism. modernism.
metaphor. temperature. chaos. order. Kenneth
Gergen. Janine Antoni. Stephen Wolfram. J.D.Casnig.
Jackson Pollock. Marcel Duchamp. Jasper Johns. cave art.
fluid. solid. gas. the self.
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Irrationality is a precious gift of the artist and this is why art is a big mystery for the rational mind.
I am bimodal, i.e., semi-rational, on average. The largest part of my own conundrum comes from the transformation of art between the 1890 and 1910 that swept up music, literature, and visual arts.
already over a century old—art, like the cave pictures from the
Stone Age, leaves an evidence of a great evolutionary
turn in human culture. One way to explain it is to
change the paradigm and acknowledge that since the end
of the nineteenth century, the Things, previously just
part of human culture, have joined humans in a new
bicultural society and even pushed them aside. There is
an additional way to look at it, as well: through the
evidence of the artifacts.
Photography, movies, and travel took away the illustrative, informative, and reflective functions from art. The face-to-face contact of the viewer with art became complicated because the art lost its own human face. The modern art lives with the mesoderm (Essay 15. On Menage a Trois in the Stone Age) of art critics and experts and is worshipped at the marketplace.
Many Things—car, computer, microwave, phone, and every electronic contraption—send messages to humans in the sign language of lights and beeps. Music and visual arts are naked and speechless. If their message is not directly recognizable by the common audience, the way the cave pictures were, the art becomes performance: an act or ritual addressed to the public and for the public. The common audience may not understand Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot—and there could be nothing to understand—but it may be entertained by the behavior, gestures, and verbal exchange of the actors, as the public was for centuries amused by traveling acrobats, circus, and side shows. Aristophanes and Shakespeare may convey high ideas, but the ideas are not a necessary component of art.
As chaos is always order and order is always chaos—and pure order and chaos are abstractions—art is always art, whether abstract or concrete. It comes in degrees and is defined in terms of its extremes.
What is modern art, then: atavism, investment, insight, prophesy, hoax, or circus performance? All of it, but mostly it is performance. This is why the genre of "installation/performance" gains so much popularity among aspiring artists (Appendix 2).
An artist does not need a brokerage of a critic to be influenced by another master. The viewer, too, can perceive a picture directly, without a mediator. But the art critic performs the same function as moral philosopher: he assigns value. Naturally, there is always somebody to dispute it. The community of critics, like that of the stock market gurus, comes to a certain equilibrium of opinion, where, like in a swarm of midges, extreme opinions are rare, and the core is well-shaped.
The word performance combines both meanings: the public display of an act and the rating of a participant in the competition, from "brilliant" to "lousy." An art critic has to perform, too, in order to attract attention and earn some living. Both the critic and the artist test the off-core positions, and if they pull the core toward themselves, their rating shoots up. The swarm can slowly travel along its own overall trajectory, split, and fuse. The performance of too critical a critic will be rated lower. The enthusiasts will be rewarded. The web of commercial relations is all-encompassing. The star performance attracts and inspires novices as they are drawn to the swarming market. And so the wheel of fortune spins: high rewards increase competition, high competition increases the top rewards and keeps the high inequality of Pareto distribution (Essay 31, On Poverty).
NOTE (2016). In the language of 2016, artists have their own 1%-niks.
An educated viewer, aided by art historians, can see the entire picture of evolving art, as a biologist sees the entire evolutionary tree of organisms—something no single picture or organism can reveal. Nevertheless, a rational mind may ask a childish question: are these paint-splashed surfaces and urinals really art? The rational mind should better ask about the biochemistry of affection and greed. Art is deeply irrational, borrowing madness from love or avarice.Fortunately, reason and insanity are as much conjoined twins as order and chaos.
I have already tried my hand in painting (Essay 20, On Artificial Art). Here I present a few new pictures of my own. In the stuttering language of art, I am coming back to the rational basics of our world.
The words within my frames are part of the pictures, like
the labels on Andy
Warhol's cans of Campbell's soup. As a revolutionary
innovation, I separate the labels from their carriers.
<-- This is a
meta-metaphor of some of the classical Andy Warhol's
pictures. I it is colorful, informative, and not
The small squares and circles represent particles—molecules, people, groups, companies and any other individual and indivisible participants. The particles are moving and contacting each other within the colored squares symbolizing the borders of the system. The contact means that a particle is more or less aware of the presence of other particles nearby. Thus, molecules collide and exchange energy only with those nearby and people interact only with those whose existence comes to their attention. Because of the movement, however, the micro-universe around an individual molecule or person constantly changes.
We can draw a line between two distant points only because they both are in the sphere of attention within a single mind. For the same reason, we can introduce two persons to each other, although they had no idea about each other's existence. The classical science is about the contents of our mind (See Appendix 4).
For the sake of simplicity, the variety of particles in my pictures is reduced to just two kinds: squares and circles. The fraction of round particles increases, top to down, from zero to 1/3.
"particle" and "movement" are not scientific terms
designed so that everybody could use them in the same
way (compare with Appendix 1). They are only my
labels for the visual metaphors.
Picture 1 has three rows and three columns. The degree of order increases in each row, left to right. In the red column, the mutual influence is minimal, but in the yellow and blue columns the particles somehow coordinate their positions.
The first column corresponds to a high degree of chaos, which can be a result of high social temperature. In this state, we can call the system an abstract liquid. There is a certain close-range order, so that at a given moment, a particle interacts only with a limited number of neighbors, for example, in terms of human community, located within an hour of travel.
The top row portrays a homogenous system: it consists of particles of only one type. In the middle and bottom rows, another type of particles is added (belonging to chemical nature, social class, race, ideology, trade, party, etc.).
When the level of chaos decreases, the particles start segregating. The system solidifies. If the process of ordering is fast, the resulting order is partial: the system consists of segregated and mixed areas. If the second component is present in a small quantity, it can spread all over the solid (second row). If the "cooling" is slow, the components can segregate and crystallize in separated domains.
This and similar systems can be easily simulated with computers, as well as with ice cubes, water, and a freezer. The computer sociologists claim the discovery of the laws governing the social segregation and growth of the cities.
Over one hundred years before computers, chemists knew an important peculiarity of the phenomenon of melting. If we have two pure chemical substances, each consisting of only one type, they will have same or different melting points. The melting point of their mixture will be always lower than the lowest melting point of the pure component.
Much later, it was shown that a very slow crystallization can perfectly separate the components, and that was used in the manufacturing of the ultrapure materials for the computer chips (zone melting). A similar spontaneous process is responsible for social segregation, for example, in the Hamptons (NY), Cape Cod (MA), and gated communities of the West Coast.
The "multicultural" society of human particles is much less prone to order than a pure one. This is a self-evident truth, regarding human societies, but I draw attention to the fact that the explanation does not depend on whether we deal with people or molecules, in spite of all great differences. The alien components, the dissidents, heretics, and newcomers disturb the original order, keep it liquid.
Historically, the stress of the social heterogeneity has been resolved either by repression, ethnic cleansing, expulsion, emigration, and secession, or by reforms and developing a new culture in which the differences are the norm, as it seemed to be the case with the American melting pot (see Essay 11, On the Rocks) and with modern art.
Picture 1 is static: it has no time dimension. It shows various degrees of order, but not the temperature.
Picture 2, Adam and Eve
is animated. Who is who is up to the viewer.
At a high temperature (red), the particles in a fluid (liquid, gas) are chaotically changing their positions. At a low temperature (blue), they mostly dance around some average positions, as it happens in solids.
The degree of order and the range of movement and contacts increase from left to right. The particles discriminately interact with each other according to certain rules. In the figure, the attraction between same particles is higher than the attraction between different ones. It happens with partners and competitors, friends and enemies, and even men and women at some social gatherings, but not at a dance club. Every rule holds only statistically.
Yet even Picture 2 does not give a clear idea of temperature.
This is what temperature is (animated):
Note that I show temperature instead of
Picture 4. The Sins of the Righteous is ANIMATED. Link: http://spirospero.net/AniMo2.gif
If the particles have certain internal complexity, as the humans have, they can change their individual properties, which is shown by occasional deformation of shape and order in Picture 4, which is a metaphor of sins.
Thus, an individual who sticks to a code of moral behavior, inadvertently violates the code, especially, in the heat of the moment. Most fine literature is about this moment and its heat. Not surprisingly, the Judeo-Christian code includes the mechanism of cooling the heat in the form of the promised forgiveness and remediation by penitence and ritual purification.
Every human is a world in itself, but all the worlds are designed in the same way because they are parts of a larger world.
Even for an attentive viewer it could be difficult to see the metaphoric message of this picture. What happens is explained in the next sequence of frames.
Frame 1: the lower circle is surrounded by five squares.
The abstract physics of "aggregate transitions" of both molecules and humans is more complex, but this is the benefit of the metaphor. We can use the metaphor, which tunnels through complexity, as a tool of understanding because it is impractical, as any poetry. To make and sell a product, we need knowledge. Note, however, that practically all products we make and sell, including the knowledge itself, never follow the scientific code to the letter. Nothing is ideal and absolute. The sins of science and technology are as forgivable (and punishable) as the sins of the soul.
But poetry also sells! How can it be impractical? Because it is art. Let us leave this interesting paradox for later exploration.
To summarize, the squares and circles symbolize individual particles in the process of change. The change, which I call movement, concerns their positions within the colored square. As an option, the particles can change on their own, regardless of the collective movement, which I show by stretching of squares and circles into rectangles and ellipses. The movement has a certain compound quality measured as the extent of change and its rate. I call the rate temperature.
This is my own interpretation of my “art,” in line with other exemplary interpretations:
Yuri Tarnopolsky, in his own words :
My pictures convey the ideas of movement, order, and temperature.
In the Seasons (1985–86), this period's most ambitious works, Johns assembled artifacts and seasonal symbols to narrate the stages of life and the periods of his career.
In False Start (1959), he exploited a discordance between actual colors and the words that name them.
is not easy to say what we are actually looking at: a
face rises before us, vibrant with power, though perhaps
the image does not benefit from labored explanations.
The Large Glass [The complete title: The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)] has been called a love machine, but it is actually a machine of suffering. Its upper and lower realms are separated from each other forever by a horizon designated as the "bride's clothes". The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified.
Marcel Duchamp, in his own words:
I threw the bottle rack and the urinal in their faces and now they admire them for their artistic beauty.
Not only my “art” is abstract; its subject is abstract: the keystone ideas of thermodynamics. An educated viewer could easily see my intentions and, probably, realize them in better pictures and animations.
It seems a paradox, but if we call abstract what cannot be perceived by senses, the abstract art may actually visualize and materialize an abstract subject : movement, suffering, struggle, boredom, and regularity.
It is a sacrilege to think that a viewer could improve the recognized titans of abstraction, but it seems so easy to paint another Piet Mondrian [this site contains interesting interpretations]. In fact, it is impossible. I see the greatness, if any, of such titans as Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and Marcel Duchamp in their power of innovative performance. They were the first to use previously unthinkable techniques and tricks, and the value of novelty is something no epigone can duplicate. Novelty lives only a day. A bidet would not work after the urinal. (On the second thought, it could, but everybody would compare its author with Duchamp).
The typical rectangular Mondrian does not attract me in any way, and there could be a simple explanation of his style. I like his other paintings: flowers, and landscapes. There is always an abyss between a young and old artist, poet, and composer.
Animated electronic art is by no means a novelty, and this is why it is difficult to expect a titan there. It is possible to make money: the company named Electronic Art is successful even amid the Great Market Plague of 2002.
I continue my explanations.
At high temperature the movement is highly chaotic. With time, any particle covers in its movement the entire area because it can be found anywhere. At low temperature, a certain order becomes visible: a particle is mostly confined to a relatively limited area in cells of a grid. The degree of this order or chaos is measured by the ratio of the area where the particle can be most probably found to the entire area, and this is done over all the particles. This requires a sufficiently long observation and does not tell us anything about the temperature because we ignore how fast the movement is, only what it is in the long run. On the contrary, the temperature can be determined by counting events during a relatively short time (see Essay 14, On Taking Temperature with a Clock).
An important area of mathematical physics—statistical mechanics—that takes a close quantitative look at the phenomenon of change in a system of changing particles. It is good for molecules and other simple objects, but of only limited use for describing human behavior. There is also a system theory, which is in the process of building, but of little promise, from my point of view. The problem with science is that as soon as an area of science develops, it immediately builds a stone wall of complexity separating itself from non-scientists. In addition, a moat filled with esoteric terminology further prevents a humanitarian tourist from entrance. But the major problem with scientific approach to society is that statistics requires a large (in time or numbers) system to generate a convincing truth (see Essay 38, On Football). We, as individuals, are not interested, however, in the society as a whole but only in our personal close environment, and only in the short run because in the long run we are dead. There is a general way of approaching partial problems of complex systems, but I still do not see how to put it into an Essay.
This is why I prefer to remain at the level of metaphor. Both physicists and humanitarians are trained in recognizing them by general education. A humanitarian can get some idea about main concepts of physics by just looking at the pictures accompanied with minimal comments. This also may help understand how a scientist can see beauty in the apparently deadly boring stuff .
I see the language of metaphor as the true common language of communication between sciences and humanities. I learned this language from poetry. I clearly see that many outstanding scientists (starting from Aristotle, see Essay 37, On the Soul) also speak the language of poetry. Unfortunately, the extreme rationality is as common among scientists as extreme irrationality is rare among artists: it is our reason, not madness, that brings home the bacon. Living side by side with Things, one cannot afford too much daydreaming.
remarkable site is now under renovation at http://knowgramming.com
The following example illustrates how five "abstract
paintings," showing nothing but arrows, metaphorically
visualize five abstract types of stories, whether real or
fictional. The arrows set the direction of time and
the vertical axis is a measure of some evaluation, in this
I would say that all fundamentals of mathematics and natural sciences provide a rich supply of metaphors. This cannot be said about the bulk of the sciences because only the fundamental ideas are not based on other ideas. To use the language of arts, they are defined in bold and irrational (i.e., non-logical) strokes of the brush and are always painted directly from nature.
An art critic, looking at my thermodynamic paintings, would make some conclusions about the speed of change and its cohesion even without any familiarity with physics. One critic would say that the red changes faster than the blue. Another would object that the speed, if you measure it with a stop clock, is the same. Yet another would say that this is why the three pictures cannot portray the same object, but the fourth critic would say that we do not know what the artist mean: we see snapshots taken over equal times, but we have no idea what happens between the shots. Maybe, positions in the blue square change hundred times faster than in the red one. Art always stirs controversies.
That movement in a community of particles can be described in terms of entropy (level of chaos) and temperature (intensity of movement) is all we need to turn the table and apply our artificial physics to art and culture in general. This is an exercise neither in science nor in humanities but in exploring the border strip.
The visual metaphors of chaos, order, temperature, and motion fit the society consisting of complex individuals that change their desires and attitudes within some flexible limits, establish fleeting and stable contacts with other individuals, and exchange money, power, promise, praise, and offense. This is not a scientific theory but a metaphor of what is going on in both society and glass of water.
Here is my final picture, which reveals the message of
the entire Essay:
It is simply the mirror image of Picture 1.
I referred to postmodernism in Essay 12, On Engines and Games. Here I come back to the subject because of a highly stimulating and eloquent book, which I found by chance.
Kenneth J. Gergen, in The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, New York: Basic Books, 1991, painted a panoramic picture of the postmodern world that to me, in 2002, seems just a familiar display of eternal human nature.
Among other manifestations, the postmodern world displays:
1. Philosophy of the anything goes type where no point of view can dominate another, truth does not exist, and the objects are nothing but the way we use language. In practice, it is the habit of questioning everything by asking, "How do you know that it is so? It may be not." In other words, nothing makes sense, including the postmodernist culture itself.
2. Art without context and consistency, where the broken and fragmentary images (like in MTV videos) follow each other without any regularity.
3. The culture where an individual, connected by technology with the rest of the world, is constantly bombarded with events requiring response or imposing an opinion (travel, calls, conferences, visits, ads, media, professional information), so that the self dissolves and assumes a fluid form, opportunistically adapting to the next situation. The concept of personality loses sense, together with the concept of place where the person has roots in the ground.
I am not going to analyze or criticize the book, which I quote in the APPENDIX. I want to retell the story in a very different language.
The postmodernist philosophy of relativism is of no interest for me because it looks like a parody of epistemology, the part of philosophy concerned with our knowledge about the world. Of course, every philosophy is right. Otherwise there would be only one. I have a strong impression that postmodernist agnosticism is a retro revival of the old epistemological debates (some of the preceding the WW1 and the Russian Revolution), but with political implications. The politics in academia follow the same pattern as the split of the Soviet Empire and the wars in Africa, Sri Lanka, and the Balkans: more power per group, and, therefore, per a group elite.
Anyway, postmodernism (in my opinion, a storm in a glass of water), started from the arguments about language. Its first thesis was that there is no objective truth, only the way we use the language. Therefore, anything goes.
I am going to use a different and, as I believe, a more appropriate language for speaking about Everything: the visual metaphoric language of my self-made art.
We might argue about the chronology and classification of the recent historical periods as romantic, modern, and postmodern. I believe that the most recent evolutionary period, whatever we call it, started in the 60's, when science became an industry involving millions of people (Essay 4, On New Overcoats). I believe that it was part of a larger big evolutionary change known as the Industrial Evolution. It heralded the coming of the Things-making Things that consume mineral fuel.
I believe that the so-called postmodern culture and philosophy, which Kenneth Gergen attributes to the development of mass transportation and instant communication, is only a logical stage of the process that started at the end of the nineteenth century. As every revolution, it leaves most of life unchanged, but puts the area of change into the limelight. This is not, however, my subject.
I completely accept the thesis of Kenneth Gergen about the changing environment of the self, which in my notation is just a small square or rectangle in the social system full of motion.
After the above
pictures, I have very little to say, and what I am
saying sounds trivial to me.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the fluidity and the degree of chaos (entropy) in Western societies have been increasing because of the softening of the rigid class structure and the increase of the rate of events, caused by technology. Both entropy and temperature have been rising. The latest factor that decreases the melting range is migration of people, balkanization and self-segregation, and the electronic procession and transfer of information.
This process can be measured and quantified in
thermodynamic and pattern terms, if the thermodynamic
paradigm is accepted. We produce enormous amount of
statistical data that cannot be interpreted outside of a
. As a historical fatalist, I am not criticizing either
postmodernism, or avant-garde art, or new social media
and mores, or anything in culture. I want to
understand all that as a natural process. In other
Essays and pieces on spirospero.net I foresee the
reversal of melting into social crystallization. So be
it. I am out.
More about art and postmodernity: Essay
60, Art and Nexistence. (2016).
Models , an
annotated list of links by Craig Reynolds
models are simulations based on the global consequences of
local interactions of members of a population. These
individuals might represent plants and animals in
ecosystems, vehicles in traffic, people in crowds, or
autonomous characters in animation and games. These models
typically consist of an environment or framework in which
the interactions occur and some number of individuals
defined in terms of their behaviors (procedural rules) and
characteristic parameters. In an individual-based model,
the characteristics of each individual are tracked through
2. I greatly admire Slumber by Janine Antoni:
is a performance/installation: whenever it is
shown, the artist lives in the gallery, weaving during
the day and sleeping with an EEG machine recording her
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) at night. The REM is an
analogue to Antoni's dreams, and she weaves this pattern
into the blanket that covers her bed while she sleeps.
In this piece, an uneasy truce exists between
contemporary medical technology, ancient myths of
weaving and the mysterious world of dreams).
The description misses a fine detail: in the morning, the performer tears into strips her nightgown and uses the strips to weave the REM pattern. I find this beautiful, warm, and romantic.
3. At a very high temperature, liquid becomes gas, which means that the frequency of contacts with other particles increases, so that in a relatively short time, a particle, potentially, contacts all the other particles. Thus, before the invention of telephone, people had to walk around the neighborhood to talk to others face to face. Today, everybody is connected to everybody.
From the point of view of the generalized states of matter, the Internet was imagined by its prophets as information gas where the temperature (limited by the speed of connection, but not distance and geography) is so high that, in terms of topology (Essay 22, On Errors ), each wired individual is in the neighborhood of all the others.
Although the viscous liquid society, with the information technology, becomes more fluid, the idealistic picture of the Internet Age is far from reality. In fact, every particle is not only practically aware of only a tiny part of all the space, but cannot be "gaseous" in principle.
I constantly find amazing web sites of unimaginable quality and content. The world is anything but gas. It is a kind of slowly moving goo with fiber, crystals, and pockets of liquid inside—quite like live flesh.
do not know about the existence of each other. A small
group, however, for example, a small company, is,
actually, a gas. In the thermodynamic sense, this human
gas is the working body of an engine, as the steam in
the steam engine. It is sucked into the company in the
morning and ejected in the evening.
4. The mathematics of the systems where particles "feel" only their neighbors was generalized by Stephen Wolfram in his theory of cellular automata, although it was known before him that individual behavior can result in global regularities. Wolfram's "new kind of science" is a separate topic. I remember how deeply I was impressed by his first publications around 1980 and how sharp I felt their novelty. I believe that his general approach is genuinely new: it is a view on the world not from our knowledge about it but from the world itself. Thus, society is definitely a cellular automaton, which is not enough to understand it: Stephen Wolfram's paradigm is complementary to the classical science. The overall style of his work and its marketing is a harbinger of the times to come (we are half-way) when teaching and knowledge will be the private property of a completely gated community with a fee for a tour and a bottle of water. I would say that Stephen Wolfram is still incredibly generous at his unique and excellent site.
5. Quotations from
The Saturated Self by Kenneth J. Gergen.
technological achievements of the past century have
produced a radical shift in our exposure to each other.
As a result of advances in radio, telephone,
transportation, television, satellite transmission,
computers, and more, we are exposed to an enormous
barrage of social stimulation. Small and enduring
communities, with a limited cast of significant others,
are being replaced by a vast and ever-expanding array of
relationships (p. x).
With social saturation, the coherent circles of accord are demolished, and all beliefs thrown into question by one's exposure to multiple points of view (p. xi).
Yet, as I shall argue, both the romantic and the modern beliefs about the self are falling into disuse, and the social arrangements that they support are eroding. This is largely a result of the forces of social saturation. Emerging technologies saturate us with the voices of humankind— both harmonious and alien. As we absorb their varied rhymes and reasons, they become part of us and we of them. Social saturation furnishes us with a multiplicity of incoherent and unrelated languages of the self. For everything we “know to be true” about ourselves, other voices within respond with doubt and even derision. This fragmentation of self-conceptions corresponds to a multiplicity of incoherent and disconnected relationships. These relationships pull us in myriad directions, inviting us to play such a variety of roles that the very concept of an “authentic self” with knowable characteristics recedes from view. The fully saturated self becomes no self at all (p. 6).
my argument is the proposal that social saturation
brings with it a general loss in our assumption of true
and knowable selves. As we absorb multiple voices, we
find that each “truth” is relativized by our
simultaneous consciousness of compelling alternatives
6. A key to the understanding of MTV videos may be that they are abstract performances, akin to my animated pictures.
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